Sunday, June 27, 2010

An open letter to the Harwich Police Dept

An open letter from the Friends of Hawksnest to Chief William Mason, Harwich Police Dept.

Dear Chief Mason and other Harwich officials,

The Friends of Hawksnest are respectfully requesting the Town of Harwich to devote a higher priority to ending unlawful behavior at Hawksnest State Park.

This behavior includes
• Off road vehicle use—causes erosion
• Parties with alcohol—leads to broken bottles, litter, noise, and danger of injury
• Groups of people present after the 8:00 pm closing time—leads to other abuses
• Litter and human waste—danger to public health and the pond
• Illegal fires—phosphorus in the ashes will lead to toxic algae growth
• Illegal camping—leads to other abuse

We believe that controlling illegal behavior at the Round Cove Rd parking area is the key to conserving the pristine water quality, and to improving the recreational experience for all at Hawksnest.  Even the State's plans to restore eroded areas can't succeed without more enforcement at Hawksnest.

Among the various enforcement agencies, we believe Harwich Police are best positioned and equipped to respond, so they should be part of any solution. We believe that the acceptance of about $130,000 a year in State funds, because of Hawksnest, enables and obligates the town to help protect Hawksnest for the next generation of Harwich residents.

The Friends of Hawksnest volunteer to help with citizen patrols and public education.  Would a two-week campaign of increased patrols, coupled with press releases, help?

We ask the Town Government to work actively with other enforcement agencies, coordinate closely with them, and to coordinate closely with Friends of Hawksnest and Harwich Conservation Trust.

If working together, we can't significantly reduce the abuse, the State may feel compelled to close the to Round Cover Rd entrance to public vehicles.  After all, their top mandate is to protect the resource for future generations of Harwich residents.

While we recognize that resources are scarce, we do believe that improvements can be made through careful cooperation and coordination with all parties.

We thank you for your help with patrols so far this year.

David Thompson, for Friends of Hawksnest

Examples of some illegal behaviors we've observed since 6/17/10
Click on photos to enlarge

Alcohol parties; parties after 8:00 closing.  Find out here why parties are bad for the pond.

Human waste in parking area, in a watershed protection zone.
This drains to a puddle, which many vehicles splash through.

The ashes from illegal fires will fertilize the pond, creating blooms of toxic algae..

Why floating parties aren’t good for Hawksnest

Floating parties—when people bring water toys, join them together, and drift out into the pond—are popular at Hawksnest State Park.

They look like lots of fun, in the late afternoon sun.

Twelve people on rafts with beer.
With no rest room, that’s a lot of urine in the pond...
It acts as a nutrient that stimulates toxic algae growth.

But floating parties aren’t good for the pond
• Lots of urine in the water will stimulate algae growth (no restrooms at the park)
• Lots of litter and cans on the bottom
• Erosion from many vehicles in the parking lot
• Party people leave intoxicated, a danger to other drivers

Alcohol is prohibited in all State Parks--period. But when reading the regulations online, I was puzzled why inflatable beach toys are prohibited in the parks.
When I went swimming with my mask and snorkel the day after the party, I found out why: There were dozens of empty beer cans lying on the bottom of the pond.

This time, there wasn’t any litter left over. That’s because the Environmental Police came to the party.

Because of thoughtless behavior like this, the Round Cover entrance to Hawksnest may be closed to public vehicles. It’s the only way to protect the resource.

Protect the pond for the next generation to enjoy.

Party parking at Round Cove Rd causes erosion.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Protecting land around Hawksnest

Land around Hawksnest State Park:
pink=State ownership
green=Town conservation
light green=Harwich Conservation Trust
brown=unknown owner
blue=Harwich water (not well protected)
gray photo=private ownership

Hawksnest is an incomplete state park...

There are two parcels on the shore of Hawksnest Pond still in private hands, and undeveloped land on the borders of the park is gradually being developed.  There are tentative plans for a golf course on undeveloped land to the SE of the park. 

There are numerous reasons to protect land around Hawksnest--including habitat for wildlife, protection of several endangered species of damselfly, protection of the groundwater that feeds the pond from comtamination for septic systems, and finally protection of the Harwich water supply.   Hawksnest is within the area that feeds water to town wells.

Here are ways you can help protect Hawksnest park, from the Harwich website:

1.Land donation: Landowners can obtain tax incentives in exchange for donating land to wellfield or wellhead protection use.

2.Conservation restriction: Property remains in private hands, but owner agrees not to develop all or part of it in order to protect water quality. Cape towns will lower property taxes on the land under restriction. Also useful for income tax deductions and estate planning.

3.Charitable sale: Seller agrees to take less money than the appraised market price for the land in exchange for tax deductions.

4.Reserved life estate: An owner continues to live on the property, while conveying the title to a water purveyor or other conservation entity. Income tax deductions accrue to owner, depending on how much longer they can be expected to enjoy use of the property.

5.Current use assessment: An owner of five acres or more enrolls each year with town, promising to keep the land in its natural or cultivated condition, rather than develop it. Property taxes are reduced significantly and the town acquires the right to buy the property if sold for other uses.

Friends of Hawksnest encourage crackdown on ORVs

On June 25, an ORV and a motorbike driven by two kids were spotted on Round Cove Rd and Spruce Rd.  Harwich Police were called, but arrived a few minutes too late to catch the kids.  They returned again the following evening, and this time, one of them drove down the gully to the beach .

That evening, Friends of Hawksnest tracked the ORV to the house it came from.  We used enlarged photos of the tires (taken when they were seen in Hawksnest), matched the photos to tracks, and then followed the tracks to their house. 

The next day, Harwich Police visited the boys, and found the ORVs in the garage.  They won't be returning to Hawksnest again.  Then we talked to one of the boys and his father, and had a frank exchange of views.  Because of the honest discussion, we have removed the photo of the two boys riding their ORVs in Hawksnest.

While neighbors say ORV abuse at Hawksnest has declined, there are still signs of recent ORV use on some trails.  ORVs began the erosion of the large gully by the beach that the State is hoping to restore.  The contract for fixing erosion at both parking lots is going to cost several hundred thousand dollars--so damage caused by ORVs, when allowed to fester, can cost serious bucks.

Any off-road vehicles (ORVs) at Hawknest are illegal.  "ORV use is permitted only on designated ORV trails within the forest management. Designated ORV trails will be marked with trailhead signage and/or orange or yellow trail blazes. All other state parks, reservations and forests are closed to ORV use at all times."  Source

On exploring further, we found that Hawksnest is surrounded by an extensive network of ORV trails.  There is one running east along the south side of the Mid Cape Highway.  Riders have cut holes in the fence bordering Rte 6, allowing them to access Hawksnest, gravel pits, and other areas.  There are access points to this network from the Queen Ann Rd, Rte 137, and Rte 39.  These trails connect with two large sand pits in the area.

Since the Town of Harwich gets about $130,000 a year in payments from the State because of Hawksnest, we think the Town should be involved in helping stop illegal behavior there.

What you can do to help
  • If you visit Hawksnest, carry your cell phone and camera.  Get a photo of the rider, then make a call to the Harwich Police508-430-7541 (then dial 0 to get a dispatcher).
  • Help us put up NO ORV signs.
  • Sign our petition.
  • The will soon be a meeting of Harwich officials to decide how to respond to this and similar issues.   Attend the meeting.  We'll publish details when we find out more.
  • Write a letter to the editor, your Selectman or Chief William Mason .
Neighbors and Friends of Hawksnest can make a difference, if we work consistently and together.

Our goals

Harwich Police, State Police, Environmenal Police, and Nickerson State Park rangers can all respond.  For years, each enforcement group has been saying the other agency is responsible.  Now Harwich Police have accepted some responsibility for responding to complaints.  But Sgt. Kevin Considine explains they are stretched very thin--and that we may not be satisfied with their response times.

What we are asking for is better coordination.  Can these various agencies divide up the times?  Can Harwich respond on weekends, for example, and Nickerson staff on weekdays?  If one agency cannot respond, will they call another to fill the gap?  Can Friends make official patrols less necessary by mounting their own patrols?   All involved need to talk.

It's DCR official policy to "cooperate with law enforcement agencies" in combating ORV abuse.

Finally, Friends of Hawksnest needs to know if an agency has responded.  This is not to "harrass" the Harwich police or any other responder--it's simply to keep our people motivated, and to help us know how we can best be of help.  There's nothing more demoralizing to a helpful citizen than making a call, then never knowing if that call made a difference, or if anyone responded.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Friends of Hawksnest begin "Citizen Patrol"

Recently Friends of Hawksnest visited Sgt. Consadine of the Harwich Police, to discuss problems at the Round Cove Rd parking area.

Consadine was cordial--he said that the Department couldn't patrol frequently, because the dreadful condition of Round Cove Rd had damaged patrol cars in the past.  But he said the Department would respond to calls reporting a problem from residents.

Both the town and State are thin on resources.  Nevertheless, we feel that the Town Police should be the one to respond to complaints of abuse, because they are properly equipped, and have cruisers in the area.  The Town is compensated by the DCR for loss of tax revenues caused by the park, so it's fitting and proper that the Town contribute something to the park.

The staff of Nickerson State Park should respond to other kinds of complaints, such as cleanup of illegal fires or dumping.  Friends of Hawksnest can do its part by patrolling, and keeping the area picked up.

To report a problem, call the Harwich Police non-emergency number: 508-430-7541, then dial 0.  A dispatcher will relay your report to an available officer.  If the road has puddles, only the SUV vehicle may respond.

Last weekend, Friends of Hawksnest mounted a patrol for three nights (6/18-20), checking the Round Cove Rd parking area after closing time (8:00 pm).  All was quiet the first two nights (the mosquitoes helped), but on Sunday night, and illegal camper was discovered.   The police were summoned, and responded in 14 minutes.Thank you, Harwich!
Update: On Friday, 6/25, a large beach party with alcohol was spotted at closing time, plust two ATVs, so the Environmental Police were summoned.  We don't know if they responded.
Why patrols are important

Everyone wishes Hawksnest could be the "town swimming hole," with no regulations or patrols--where people could enjoy the swimming and "just do their thing."

That's the way it has been for the last 30 years.  But unfortunately, things have steadily gone downhill at the two parking areas.  In the 1990s, ATVs going to the beach (during drought years) broke down the bank, causing the ugly gully that now threatens the pond with pollution.  Irresponsible use at Round Cove Rd parking has led to erosion, illegal fires, cutting of trees to expand parking, litter, broken glass--and now, much human waste strewn about.

Finally, the State has plans to restore the erosion at both parking area.  But these plans won't be successful if the abuse continues.  The plantings will surely be ripped up by vehicles and ATVs. 

So to preserve Hawksnest for future generations, it's essential to regain "control" of the parking areas.  In talking about it, I've encountered statements like "kids will be kids," or "the vandals will have their way, no matter what you do."

I don't agree.  If people care enough, and if they're willing to give a little of that caring back to the Pond, then they can make a difference.

If we can get enough people involved, the best approach is a patrol of two people, who rely on the power of persuasion to get party-goers to leave.  If that fails, then call the police.  Persuasion and education will gain more friends for the park in the long run.

For now, I'd recommend enforcing:
  • Park closing time 8:00 pm
  • No alcohol--leads to all kinds of abuse
  • No camping--leads to fires, litter, human waste
  • No fires--ashes lead to growth of algae in pond
  • Pack out what you carry in
  • No vehicles off-road

Round Cove Rd may be paved

Round Cove Rd may be paved, from Rte 137 southwest to the furthest house, said Lincoln Hooper, Director of the Dept. of Public Works.  About 14 residents along the unpaved road recently petitioned the Department, asking that it be paved.  Four residents were not in favor of paving. 

Director Hooper supports paving, because he says the current dirt road requires constant maintenance.  Paving will save the town maintenance funds in the long run, although the payback time would be quite long.

Hooper says the paving isn't going to happen soon. The road is narrow, and pipes buried beneath the road are going to complicate the process, Hooper said.

Implications for Hawksnest State Park

Paving will increase the convenience of access to the Round Cove Rd parking area in Hawksnest State Park.  This in turn makes completion of the State's erosion control and restoration plan for Hawksnest Pond all the more urgent.

Since the DCR's plan calls for closing of public vehicle access from Round Cove Rd, yet grading to improve police and fire access, overall access to the pond for police (from paving of the outer portion, plus grading of the inner portion) will be greatly improved.  This should lead to a decrease in the litter and illegal parties that have defaced the parking area at Hawksnest Pond.  The litter and parties are one of the main complaints of residents around the park.

Likewise, paving of Round Cove Rd may increase use of Seth Whitfield County Way (Hawksnest Rd), so that road should be protected as a Scenic and Historic Byway.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Withdrawn--DCR plan to limit access by vehicles from Round Cove Rd

Update--July 3: At first I fully supported the DCR plan for the Round Cove Rd. parking areas.  That plan called for repairing the erosion above the beach, plus closing the road at the four corners to public vehicles (pedestrian access would still be encouraged). 

The reason for my support was that I didn't see how the erosion could be stopped (this season, before the big restoration could begin) without reducing the number of people entering from Round Cove Rd.

However, on talking to some families at Hawksnest, I realized that cutting off vehicular access would be a hardship for families with children, and others coming for a quick swim.

How Round Cove Rd came to be the main access

Plan for closure of Round Cove Rd--the real facts

The current DCR plan for restoring erosion at Hawksnest called for closing Round Cove Rd to public vehicular traffic.  The closure would occur close to the corner with Seth Whitfield Rd (Hawksnest Rd), with provision for informal parking there. 

Note that the plan does NOT call for closure to police, park, or emergency vehicles.  Public vehicles would be stopped by a gate, but the road itself would actually be improved with grading, increasing access to police and emergency vehicles.  With the planned grading, police patrols could be increased, helping to control abuse at the Round Cove Rd parking area.

The DCR plan does call for stopping access to the new, lower parking area at Round Cove Rd.  Access would be stopped by piling woody debris there.  The newspaper erroneously reported that this barrier would be created at the four corners, stopping ALL traffic.  Nope.  Access to official vehicles will actually be improved.

The current plan for restoration at Round Cove parking has been withdrawn by DCR, to give the public more time to comment, and possibly to revise the plan.  I support the current plan, with minor modifications.  One of my reasons is that the improved access planned from Walker and Spruce Roads will actually be more convenient.

History of access to Hawksnest

When Hawksnest became a state park in the late 1970's, access from Round Cove Rd was actually quite good.  You could drive up to 50 mph on the road.  For this reason, plus the fact that it was a continuation of a larger road on the other side of SR 137, more people went to the pond via Round Cove Rd.

Sometime early in the Park's history, access via Round Cove Road at the four corners was blocked by a chain.  This lasted for some years.  So the plan to limit access here isn't new.

In contrast, access via Walker Rd was known to few.  When the Mid Cape Highway was constructed, Spruce Rd was built as a frontage Rd.  It served no one except a few cabins on Walker Rd.  It was truly the road to nowhere.   So as Round Cove Rd deteriorated, people kept coming that way.  They just followed old habits.   Today, access via Spruce Road is really more convenient and safe for vehicles.  When the planned improvements are made there, access will be still more convenient.

So, I feel that people who object to the closing of Round Cove Rd (from the four corners) to public vehicles are following habit.  They will still have rapid access from Spruce Rd.  There is more paving along this route, and Walker Rd, although dirt, is in good shape.

Some folks say their kids like to walk to the pond via Round Cove Road.  When the road becomes closed to vehicles from the four corners, it will be SAFER for kids to walk.   Parents can still give kids a lift to the four corners.
#   #   #

This news story was unclear, helping to create the misimpression that access at the four corners would be blocked by woody debris, thus blocking even official vehicles.  In fact, the woody barrier would block access only to the big muddy puddle and newly created, renegade parking next to the pond.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hawksnest State Park now a danger to public health

On June 17, I checked the Round Cove Rd parking area for the first time this year.  This is the area that DCR had proposed to close to vehicles, so that soil erosion threatening the pond with pollution could be repaired.

As usual, I found much litter, including two illegal fire pits, plus an abandoned microwave oven.

Human waste

What was new this time was a large amount of human waste, unburied in the parking area.  There were 2-3 locations used more than once in the actual parking area--with unburied human feces--plus at least three other areas probably used once.  One of these was closer to the pond.  Dog waste was also found.

Human waste and litter at the Round Cove Rd parking area.

On June 16, the Town of Falmouth closed their public water supply because fecal coliform was detected in the tap water.  While Falmouth's public water comes in part from a pond, the soil in Cape Cod is very porous, and even Harwich's wells could be threatened, if the unsanitary behavior found at Hawksnest is allowed to occur elsewhere.  Links to more photos.


Erosion had become worse, especially along the road formed last year by 4X vehicles, which established a second informal parking area closer to the pond.  The upper parking area is becoming a basin, channeling runoff towards the pond.

However, this runoff could be redirected away from the pond with a solution as simple as a single sediment sock (a roll of environmental fabric filled with sand).

Monday, June 14, 2010

State withdraws plan for Round Cove Rd at Hawksnest

The Conservation Commission of Harwich was going to consider the restoration plan for Hawksnest State Park next Tuesday, June 15.  But the State has withdrawn (without prejudice) the part of the plan for Round Cove Rd.  Apparently, they want to provide more opportunity for input by the public.  When there has been sufficient public input, the Round Cove Rd plan may be modified and resubmitted to the Conservation Commission for approval.

The Commission was going to discuss the part of the plan for Round Cove Road, at the SE corner of the pond.  The portion of the plan for restoring erosion on the SW corner, near Walker Rd, was approved at the last meeting.  That portion of the plan involved creating a 5-car parking area, plus rain gardens to prevent polluted runoff from reaching the lake.

The remaining plans (that have been withdrawn) call for restoration of serious erosion at the Round Cove Rd parking area, plus closing that entrance to vehicular traffic.  Pedestrians will still be able to access that area with its trails and swimming beach.

Problems at the Round Cove Rd parking area are what triggered the restoration plans.  The bare, eroding parking area was collecting runoff and shooting it towards the pond--creating an ugly gully leading to the beach, plus a huge, muddy puddle that threatened to break through to the pond. 

It's going to be difficult to restore this area while it continues to see heavy use.  Another reason behind the plan to close the area to vehicles is the unsuitability of this area to heavy visitation.  Bluffs and banks on this side are highly vulnerable to erosion, as shown by the present gully.  In contrast, the other parking area near Walker Rd is not close to a bluff.

Another issue to consider is maintenance of the road to the Round Cove Rd parking area.  If vehicles continue to use that entrance with its terrible road, then pressure for improving the road will increase, with the added expense.  Increased visitation there will only compound the erosion problems.

Out-of-control parties at the Round Cove Rd parking area have always been a concern.  They create a lot of litter and pollution from illegal fires.  These parties are illegal, because the park closes at 8:00 pm, fires are illegal, and alcohol is prohibited.  The parties should be easier to control at the Walker Rd parking area, because police will have easier access to that entrance.  Moreover, the ParkWatch program has been strengthened.

Once the plans are finalized and the current damage is restored, the next priority is to develop plans to protect the shoreline vegetation.  It's this vegetation that ensures the pristine water quality at Hawksnest.

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